Breaking the Suburban Status Quo at St. Clair and Keele

Trinity Development Group has purchased the prewar vegetable oil processing plant currently operated by Bunge. The trains will no longer rumble on the other side of the great wooden wall, and the image of the hub of silos bathed in saturated orange and yellow light at night will fade to black. Whatever will replace it, will “at least be better than industry”. But in a decade, how many people will still readily say that?

Proposed is another development dominated by a parking lot. It is an extension of the suburbanism brought courtesy of Home Depot and Canadian Tire in the late 1990s. Today’s trucks will be replaced by hundreds of cars. This kind of inefficient development is no longer acceptable in the urban environment of the city of Toronto. When the first big box retailers arrived in the area, the development was met with delight, even from yours truly. Gone were the smelly Ontario Stockyards in favor of shiny new retail. Two “big box” stores went up, pungently anti-urban in design though few cared to notice. The project put up a wall on St. Clair Avenue West without any entrances for pedestrians. Indeed, the only way to access it by foot is to walk around and through the parking lot’s access road.

The property at Weston Road and St. Clair is at more than a literal crossroads or intersection. This community can accept more car oriented development detrimental to the environment, or demand better. This project has the potential to set an urban precedence for redeveloping, for example, the empty half of the Home Depot parking. Communities with easy pedestrian access to retail and compact urban design such as Queen West or Roncesvalles, are among the more desirable communities in Toronto. They are vibrant and engaging, rather than sterile and generic. However, it is not necessary to recreate them. If there is a demand for big box retail, let us accommodate it. It is in our community’s best interest that development be efficient in land use. We are getting a heavy upgraded streetcar line, and urban focused development will be even more imperative in the future, especially in encouraging others along St. Clair to ride rather than drive here.

Let us not access the status quo. Fundamentally, every store that will neighbour Gunns, St. Clair or Weston must have an entrance facing the street, not the parking lot. Midrise residential condominiums should be added on top of the retail. Parking should be all underground. Any leftover space ought to be used for parks. It is this kind of development that will enhance the community. This may seem foreign as an urban interpretation of traditionally suburban style retail, but it is already planned for Queen West.

Ultimately, only this kind of redevelopment be better than trains, trucks, smoke and silos. The “anything is better than industry” mantra became inept the day Home Depot opened.

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24 responses to “Breaking the Suburban Status Quo at St. Clair and Keele

  1. This is a terrible development that will further add to the downfall of Weston Rd, east of Keele St. You will be stuck with slabs of BIG BOX retailers, increased traffic and noise, and less well paying jobs. This development needs to be stopped BIG BOX will not add or improve your community. This development along with the increased housing development on the former BM lands needs to be stopped. The lands in this area should never of been approved to be converted to BIG BOX, but should of remained industrial. Hands in my pocket, paints a perfect picture of the relationship between the local councillors and developers.

  2. I think you’re mistaken, because you’ll have a tough time finding people who want to live beside a large factory. That the councillor is aware of. What kind of industry doesn’t have large transport trucks driving in and out at any time of the day?

    On the other hand, property at this location that’s still in a fairly urban zone that’s not that far from the old city shouldn’t be developed with a precedence on the driver. There’s a variety of alternatives to the type of development that will most likely be proposed (keep in mind, that the proposal hasn’t even been made to the city yet, to the best of my knowledge).

  3. What came first? The factories or the houses? The local councillor knows the plans for all sites in the ward prior to them being presented to the community and the city, and the councillors do not always act in the best interest of the community either. It is important that the lands be developed in the best interest of the City overall, residents and businesses in the area. Adding more big box retail will do nothing to enhance the community. There is plenty of land that sit empty at the old stock yard site to add more retail, if they want. The industrial land should stay as is. Remember, industrial\manufacturing does not necessarily mean factories with smoke stacks. You can develop food factories, ie, Primo Pasta, etc….What about relocating factories such as King Koil (mattress) back to the city. King Koil left Toronto because of the high taxes, and this is one firm that would love to be back in the City.
    Overall the development in the area needs to put an end to big box retail. The Bunge factory is slated for big box as well. This community can do without additional big box, and the site of empty store fronts that line St.Clair, Keele and Weston Rd. The lands should be left for mix use of small manufacturing, company headoffices, services and small scale retail. Vision today but think about the future.

  4. I completely disagree with you John – sorry. Are you a resident in the area? When speaking to my neighbours, there’s no one who likes seeing big, ugly industrial factories over big box stores. The smell in the area from these factories makes it impossible to enjoy a summer night in the backyard. Plus the value of our investment (our home) goes down. The city is doing a fine job by replacing these factories with retail and new homes. Toronto is a metropolitan city and needs more homes. Employment is being replaced by replacing manufacturing jobs with retail. Which works better in a residential area.

  5. If the city started to phase out industry, then that’s the direction it chose to go. You can’t allow a subdivision to be built and then change your direction and encourage factories to be built next door. There are older homes as well, some prewar in fact. Some were built at the same time when the industry came.

    Helen- you’re right that a city needs to have homes, but not low density homes. Neighbourhoods have to be pedestrian friendly and transit friendly, and the current plans are very unlikely to achieve that. Cities need employment as well. Chain retail will likely bring slightly more than half the hourly pay that industry could, so it’s not some equal trade off of one type of job for another.

    The point is that suburban style big box retail that’s designed to accommodate drivers is simply as undesirable as a factory. Big box stores can meet urban criteria, there is enough room for office space, and condos should be built on top of the big box store and smaller retail in an architecturally sensible building. In that link in my blog entry to the Queen and Portlands plan, did you see the “site plan”. It will have both a big box and independent retail, and condos. There is no reason that this can’t be done on St. Clair.

  6. 100% of my family & friends think (as do I) the selling point/appeal of the area, is the feeling of a suburb but the beauty of being in the city. They like the big box. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “wow you have a home depot, canadian tire, rona etc…right across the street. That area has changed alot.” This must be true since the homes in our subdivision generally are on the market for no more than 45 days. So the city planners must be doing something right!

    Please visit Trinity’s website. On there is a plan I BELIEVE has everything you mentioned. Residences, office space, etc…

    I really don’t see what’s the issue.
    This is a good development in my eyes and I’m sure most of residents feel the same way.

  7. The trinity development is all big box, along with another “home improvement” store. I live in this ward and am sad to hear that people in St.Clair village are “excited” about more big box outlets that will bring more traffic, pollution and noise to the community. Where is your community centre, or medical centre, of your friendly neigbouhood barber? Oh you can get all that at Wal-Mart. I am surprised that as a city of toronto resident, you like the idea of our community looking like the corner of hwy 7 and weston rd in woodbridge. Vision for good decent jobs from office spaces, mixed manufacturing and services with good transit within a mixed development like Liberty Village. Why are so many people selling their homes in your community? Quick cash? Or perhaps the increasing traffic? There is always a buyer for a house in Toronto, but when alot of people are selling you need to ask why.

  8. John you bring up good points!!! I agree 100% our community does need more services such as dental, medical, veterinarian, hairdresser etc… If you view Trinity’s proposed plan there’s an area for services and it’s my hope they will included those things.

    What a the tranformation at Liberty village. But there’s no smelly factory right next to people’s homes or the neighbourhood park where the children play.

    This is just an FYI – St. Helen’s Meat packers which is behind the subdivison is ACTUALLY expanding. So not all industry is leaving the area.

    Overall the area has a lot of potenial and undeveloped land. We are not limited because of one development. Hopefully this one development can incorporate our needs in their plan. My approach is work with it rather than against it. It’s proactive rather than reactive. šŸ™‚

  9. Well, I have looked at the Trinity plans for St. Clair and Weston, and frankly, I like them. The store fronts are all pushed up to the two streets while the parking is behind the store fronts. Additionally, the entrance to the mall is from St. Clair, and on Weston Road, well south of the intersecton at St. Clair and Weston/Keele. I also like the plans for more townhouses. My hope is that the car wash on the Keele/St. Clair corner will go next. The new plans from Trinity (if they remain as they are) have my full approval. I want a walkable shopping excursion. Right now the Dominion is a far stretch from Pharma-plus. And the Dominion is back from the street itself. I am hoping that this projected mall is a one-stop shopping experience right off of the new St. Clair right-of-way streetcar.
    Tee

  10. I like the Trinity plan, since it is unique. But what your forgetting is the implication of more big box retailing. More traffic, pollution, noise, the closing of the mom and pop stores, less real paying decent jobs, and the potential of stores closing as too many of these stores are being built. They need to build plaza style retail along st.clair, that would have the services you need. Then the land behind could be used for manufacturing, office space, services etc. Please do not believe the councillor and the section 37 garbage. This has been told by the councillor before and the monies for projects never show up. The dominions, wal-mart etc…were all approved by the local councillor and they have not improved the area.

  11. It’s the parking at back that might be problematic. They could easily build just walls by St. Clair without any entrances. In fact, if you look at similar developments outside of Toronto, that’s exactly what they do. This development should extend the kind of streetscape seen on St. Clair east of Old Weston Road and in the Junction but slightly taller by 2-3 storeys.

  12. Well, I confess that I want more services in the area, and I would prefer franchises to mom and pop stores. Neighborhood franchises will support school sports teams, maintain their premises, and avoid filling their windows with too many varied posters and ads. It is my hope that the Trinity plan stays true to its original suggestion which exhibits all of the store fronts pushed up against the sidewalks of Weston and St. Clair. My one complaint against the Dominion, the LCBO, and the Home Depot is that these store fronts are not brought right up to the street. These stores do not encourage foot traffic, and this is unfortunate. Instead, as you walk along St. Clair, you see parking lots, and you have to walk a ways into the parking lot to access these stores. It would be ideal if this new development at St. Clair and Weston had some clothing retail, a dental clinic, a postal office, a fitness outlet, and other varied options. I would highly value a neighborhood where I could walk to access all of the necessary amenities. And if there is parking behind the mall, then perhaps all of this traffic would force the trucking traffic to use another route to the 401. I will take mall traffic to trucks any day of the week — even with the problems that more cars may bring.

  13. Successful small retail can actually do a better job of feeding a family than minimum wage, and it’s an unfair generalization to say that small retail doesn’t maintain their premises. Can you name a small retailer that has a lot of posters that bothers you? Out of curiosity, how often do you shop in the Junction?

    I prefer as little of any traffic as possible. I prefer bringing more people in through higher density residential and public transit to sustain various businesses without having to rely on people driving.

    Trinity should not be allowed to build if it isn’t urban friendly.

  14. So everyone wants more service and it sounds like NO more big box stores……well let the councillor know that the community wants to see services and businesses that will benefit and enhance the community. No more big box that will make the community look like the 905 areas that create traffic,noise and empty big boxes down the road. Don’t forget that the former kodak lands are also slated to be converted to big box and this development is being fought to preserve the lands as manufacturing. How much big box stores do we need and who will fill all these spots?

  15. To my eyes, the store fronts at the corners of Dundas and Keele need much to be desired as does the car wash at Keele and St. Clair. I am a pedestrian shopper with a pull cart, and in an ideal world, I would ask for huge expansive sidewalks with no street parking and no parking lots (and force everyone to walk, ride a bike, or take the TTC), but I doubt that my request would ever be taken seriously. But I appreciate the fact that the Shopper’s Drug Mart has its front doors right at the street by the bus stop. Oh yes, there is another entrance for car owners at the back, but this store is also attractive for pedestrian shoppers. I want more stores with entrances near the sidewalks and bus stations so that pedestrian traffic is encouraged. But the stores must provide convenience as well so that it is not cumbersome to do one’s shopping by foot. As I have said before what disappoints me about the Dominion is that it is set up for cars rather than the sleeper community across the street. But the Starbucks is very nice — right on the street near the sidewalk and pedestrian traffic, and it is pleasant to see so many nearby inhabitants walk to Starbucks for a coffee. I agree that more traffic is not what we are all after, but if this consumer traffic whittles away at the commuter traffic and the trucks enroute to the highways, then I will take mall traffic to trucks downshifting, doing wide turns, making noise, and spewing exhaust. And the turn-off into the Trinity mall off of Weston is well north of the intersection at St. Clair — which is one small blessing.

    Ultimately, I would like a landscaped park at the Bunge site, but I will settle for stores pushed up against the sidewalks, more lowrise housing, a clean and convenient trolley line, and more pedestrian traffic opportunities.

  16. Any BIG BOX box economy is a disaster to the community. So what are you talking about, saying that the community wants more big box? Another name for big box, is bully box, meaning, that there is no fair space for people to access the business market and, consumers are lied to, WHEN there is no choice of whatever it is becomes a product.

    Instead of cents, can we start speaking in sense?

    Let’s stop luying and playing the privlidge game, because that kind of development, the kind that has no clue how to first of all communicate with the residents, the kind that has not incling or connection with a broad range of people characteristics, the kind that envisions a utopia, that is, clearly apart from the needs of St.Clair and so on, culminates a complexity of problems.

    If we are interested in economic, ecological, and community and fair-trade development, people development, then why are we encouraging further destruction of local based business.

    In other words, the local whatever it is (not a car dealership) but, fruit market, coffee, shop, bakery, whatever it be locally owned, based on fair-trade ethical principles, should be the focus of development.

    Development is not only money orientated while pushing people out of development initiatives, what happened to innovative strategies that focus on FAIR-TRADE, people inclusive strategy. Some are for big box, many are not.

    The Jane Jacobs theory is not at all inclusive as the utopians may think. Let’s start working with ideas, and ethics, and fair-access to community planning.

    No?

  17. As an area resident, I am very concerned about the growing and ongoing development that is for only one anchor big box outlets……we are missing so many community and vital services that we need, yet city planners, local councillor and some local residents keep ramming through these poor developments. Enough is enough. I don’t believe any of this section 37 garbage, as we never see results, other then lies.

  18. The plan seems Ok to me, It has a good mix and it will be a big improvement over the existing plant. I believe the BIG BOX system is here to stay in Canada not only Toronto, these are the types of companies that will make the investment to bring these developments forward. I would love to have Bloor West Viilage set up here on the corner, but I doubt anyone could or would fund it.

  19. I’m arriving a little late in this thread, but having read through all the commentary and regardless of whether you’re pro or con to the new retail development it is a very emotional topic. I live southeast of the Keele/St. Clair West intersection, but I choose to shop in the Junction retail district as well as the St. Clair Gardens strip (although at the moment this does not provide as much higher quality choice as does Dundas West).
    BIG BOX retail simply does not offer the specialty shopping that these strips have, nor are they as accessible to EVERYONE.
    I avoid the BIG BOX retailers as much as possible, given how pedestrian unfriendly they are. The other day I made a trip to Home Depot and Rona. It was so cold I took the streetcar (well, bus at the moment), but ended up walking almost 1 km from the bus stop in order to get into the damn store! I almost broke my neck as they had also not cleared the sidewalks, so I tried walking in the roadway as it was not icy and had to be subjected to car drivers honking and yelling at me. It’s just as bad if you choose to shop at Dominion or the LCBO because the giant parking lot is in FRONT making it more challenging again for those on foot.
    Talk about appalling planning. While in Home Despot (sorry), I enquired about a pedestrian entrance on St. Clair. The look I received from the store clerk would have shrivelled a lemon.
    Was I from another planet? I guess so.
    Folks, this IS the city. This is NOT suburbia and should be treated as such. We are at a critical time, with pollution, ecological and environmental decline rapidly escalating.
    Some of you have stated your adversity to residing beside “smelly factories” (which to echo someone else’s sentiments, were there BEFORE you chose to buy where you did) yet do not seem offended by the increase in automobiles and coming into that neck of the woods as a result of the direction the retail development went.
    I’m sorry I just don’t get it.
    It is the same councillor in office now as it was when the Stockyards were being developed so do not expect anything different unless you put collective pressure forward.

  20. I absolutely agree with the last comment. I know that it’s easy to feel that nothing better will be developed, but I don’t believe this is the case. There are very few areas this close to the city with this much land that can be redeveloped. Have no doubt, many developers are salivating at this development opportunity. We should make it clear that we demand more, and that there must be respect for the fact that this development is within a highly urban area. In addition, the St. Clair Streetcar (regardless of varying opinions), is extremely attractive to developers. I know (from personal sources) that developers are eyeing this area as a major development opportunity precisely because of the streetcar and the convenience it will offer to those heading downtown.

    I just think that we should be expecting more and to fully appreciate the value that our area has. I do not like the way local council tries to talk to our residents as if we should accept lower standards of development. There is no basis for that. If that were true, the homes in our area never would have sold. That vision should be reflected in our demands.

    Ok, that’s my input!

  21. Does anyone know of any new development going on in the area or plans of any new development?

    BTW,
    It seems that the street car work should be completed sometime in Year 2009 to Gunns Road, if developers are looking into this area as the previous comment mentions.

  22. Former Kodak Lands is slated to become a major power centre……but community is fighting to keep lands as employment, real employment that is not retail….and the City is listening. Took some time to get the councillor on board, but she has now changed her tune and is supporting the community as oppose to the developer.
    NO TO BAD PLANNING!

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  24. Respect to public transit commuters and foot traffic in any new development along St.Clair-Weston. It is obvious that designers were totally oblivious to r to those with time, mobility or access concerns. I tend to take alternative locations, even though St.Clair is more conveniently located for me, simply because of all the walking. I like to save my somewhat overworked legs (at the end of the day) for shopping rather than wasting time and energy on working my way around the BIG BOXES.
    Too bad the tracks don’t extend further to Scarlett or at least Jane. I would probably use Wamart at Runnymede more often but I dread waiting on the extra bus at Gunns Loop and St. Clair, and why is there no entrance to access Walmart from Runnymede. My legs are not made of wood after all.

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